The Electronic Privacy Information Center has complained to the US Federal Trade Commission about Facebook’s proposed purchase of Whatsapp. Their concern is that the 450mn Whatsapp users have not agreed to, and would not choose to agree to, Facebook’s exploitation their personal data.
The FTC’s response will give an important indication of the value of personal data obtained via a corporate takeover. Facebook has already said they would run Whatsapp as a separate business. However, given that Facebook monetizes data by using it to target advertising, there is no doubt that the data possessed by Whatsapp would be valuable to them. The acquisition begs further questions too. If the purchase goes ahead with legal constraints over how Facebook can use Whatsapp’s personal data, government authorities still have a very poor track record when it comes to detecting violations, and hence enforcing the rules they advocate. In Europe, the push towards forcing businesses to recruit Data Protection Officers indicates the authorities are incapable of enforcing laws if businesses do not police themselves.